After watching “The Dark Knight Rises,” I proclaimed that it was the best of the Dark Knight Trilogy, over-taking ”The Dark Knight” in both concept and scope. After making that claim, I realized that, well, I could be wrong. Was I wrong? Some of you will say yes, some of you will say no. I decided that, instead of me ranting and raving on one side of the street, I would investigate both sides. Ian Buckwalter is a film writer for such great publications as NPR, the Washingtonian, DCist and The Atlantic. Remember? We did a podcast together. He knows far more about movies than I do, or you do, so I emailed him for his thoughts. Below is our back and forth, unedited. Warning: Spoilers below. If you haven’t watched the film, don’t read.
Jarvis: Both “Knight” and “Rises” are great films. But, after watching “Rises,” I see how safe “Knight” was. In “The Dark Knight,” we had a classic villain handled amazingly by Heath Ledger. He was the villain and Batman had to stop him. Simple. We also had the idea of being a Legend, more than a Hero, which “Rises” fleshes out. ”The Dark Knight Rises” deals more with this broken man that puts on a costume and tries to save lives. We see the consequences of his actions when he loses everything, has to come back from nothing and be what he always tried to be. ”Rises” takes so many risks, and does so many unconventional things, it’s hard for me not to love it more that “Knight.”
Ian: I think The Joker, as a character, is more mold-breaking than that, though. Alfred’s monologue comparing him to the bandit he’d run across in Burma years ago sets the distinction up nicely: how many villains do we really run across whose actions can’t be predicted, because their motivations can’t really be understood? The Joker’s commitment to chaos and lack of normal motivating factors makes him an extremely unconventional villain, and what makes TDK itself unconventional is the fact that the broken man we see in TDKR is The Joker’s great success. Batman is the thing The Joker set out to destroy, and at the end of TDK, it doesn’t matter that The Joker is caught; he’s still essentially won. The eight years between the films represents nearly a decade of The Joker continuing to have won; Bruce is broken, and Gordon has compromised his moral compass to clean up the streets and to keep his crushing secret. I agree with you that TDKR is incredibly daring, particularly in its structure and just how much Nolan trusts his audience to keep up with an incredibly dense story, and I love it for that. But a superhero movie in which the hero — despite having technically stopped the villain — still winds up losing the battle for his soul and his identity? That takes serious balls.
Jarvis: Your points on The Joker are strong, and they are hard for me to refute. I also think there is a weakness in TDKR that is beginning to show it’s ugly head. The main villain, Bane, isn’t given the spot light like The Joker was. Or, perhaps, the Bane character never truly takes the spot light. It’s almost like Bane’s muted somewhat (no pun intended). Or maybeThe Joker is just that compelling, which I’m beginning to agree with you on.
What I loved about TDKR was when Bruce Wayne/Batman is in the prison. I could have watched another hour of that. It was fantastic. That, plus watching the Batman come back after 8 years, having to struggle and learn how to do his work, it seemed very much like the spotlight was on him, on this character, what he’s been through and what he’s going through. If a movie has some sort of focal energy, The Joker took the energy in TDK and Bruce Wayne/Batman took it in TDKR. That might have been why I like it better. The Joker made me feel uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable is needed for a story to work, that sense of tension. But in TDKR, the tension came from Bruce Wayne’s struggle to be Batman, which was more interesting than The Joker’s desire to see the world burn.